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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Course Evaluations that Matter

Do your course evaluations matter? Do they measure what's really important to your company and your students?

The training courses that you develop and deliver should advance your company's business objectives. This sounds like common sense. Now think back to the training classes that you have attended. After each class, you were probably asked to fill out a course evaluation. How many of those evaluations measured how well the course met the company's or your business objectives?

Too many course evaluations measure how well the course was written or delivered, and not how well the course supported the company's or student's objectives. For example, you have probably filled out course evaluations with a question similar to this one:

    Rate the pace of the course:

  • Too Slow

  • Just Right

  • Too Fast

This question helps you determine if the course is good. It does not help you determine if the course met the needs of your company or students. Here is an example of a question that measures how well a course met one of the company's business objectives:
As a result of this class, are you able to spend less time performing the task covered? For example, are you able to spend less time creating a purchase order or travel request, or less time looking for ledgers to view?

  • No. It takes me just as long to perform the same tasks as before taking this class.

  • Yes. I can perform the tasks covered in class in less time than before.

  • This question doesn't apply to me.

One of the biggest challenges in the training profession is measuring return on investment for training. Entire books are devoted to this topic. While a complete treatment is beyond the scope of this article, you can still take steps right now to measure how well your course has met your company's or customer's business objectives.

Interview the course sponsors and/or students, and discover what business objectives they want to fulfill with the course. A business objective is a specific task whose success can be measured.

When you ask course sponsors or participants what they hope to accomplish in a course, their first answer is usually not specific enough. For example, if you are developing a course for a new engine analyzer, they might answer that the course objective is "To be able to use the analyzer." In this case, you would need more specifics. Use the asnalyzer to perform exactly which tests? On what kinds of engines? With what degree of accuracy?

Once you know the objectives being measured, the evaluation questions suggest themselves. When writing the questions, focus on asking the students whether they can now perform the given task better, faster, more accurately, etc. than before.

In addition to surveying the students, you might also consider objectively measuring the students' productivity before and after the class. For example, you might measure how long it takes students to perform a task before and after training, or how well they score on customer satisfaction surveys. These kinds of objective measurements are more difficult than having students fill out post-training evaluations. However, the payoff is a clearer idea of how well your classes support your company's and your students' business objectives.

This article is necessarily brief about how to measure the return on investment for a training course. However, using course evaluation questions that directly address your company's or student's business objectives is a good start. From there, you can move on to more formalized, complex techniques of course evaluation such as those discussed in the books recommended on this site. Your credibility as a trainer, and your company's bottom line, will both profit.

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